As Dave and I rewatched and unpacked Suitcase, we discovered something unusual. We disagreed over the contents. OK, not a huge disagreement, but one of us may be seeing things. We invite you to rewatch Suitcase and tell us what you see.
Tango, Marlin, Tom Sawyer, DeLorean, Best Friend, Colonel, Honeymooners, Phase 3; what do these episodes have in common? To me, those represent perfection. Except for maybe making each of them longer, I wouldn’t otherwise change a thing. Suitcase is solidly in a second tier of episodes. That is episodes that are wonderful, but have a few little issues I would fix if I could. Call them a 9+ on a 10 point scale. It speaks well of Chuck that this is a very large group; and so far in S4 I would add “Aisle of Terror” and “First Fight” to the list for an outstanding first part of the season.
I realize Suitcase is essentially a fluff episode. There is little real drama here. The first five episodes of this season all seem to be aimed at establishing the depth and strength of the Chuck/Sarah relationship and setting up the main arc to come. Well, I make it no secret that I love the lighter stuff that’s played just for fun; and I think Suitcase is the strongest of this intro arc.
The core strength of the episode is Chuck and Sarah working together as a team, and having fun while doing it. Favorite moments being; flirting just after they arrive in Milan, Chuck’s attempted “spiderman kiss”, Sarah’s reaction to the villain’s closet (“just say it”), “is she naked?”, Chuck closing the door on Sarah when the shooting starts, slap fight with The Hulk, runway cat fight, and “you are my home.”. And those are just the highlights, this a seriously fun episode.
The Buy More is neither a plus nor a minus to me in this episode (which is a blessing in it’s own way). The scene where Jeff and Lester get tranqed is quite funny, and I love Chuck telling Devon everything is normal as he watches Casey and Morgan wheel Jeffster into Casey’s apartment. I suppose Morgan being made manager is funny in it’s own right, but overall the Buy More gets little reaction from me.
So what keeps it from being a 10 on my scale? Mainly the silly recycled “Suitcase” story itself. This feels so much like last season’s Role Models. Most of us would consider moving in and unpacking to be basically the same issue. So we get this mildly amusing story that somehow they are separate in Sarah’s mind, so gee, we get to see the issue addressed twice. This is only a mild annoyance since both episodes are a lot of fun and Suitcase is actually the stronger of the two. But still it would be nice if we got more frequent episodes with no relationship issues between Chuck and Sarah at all. I’m really fine with legitimate couple’s issues coming up, Aisle of Terror and First Fight being excellent examples to my mind. But rehashing the Role Models issue seems a lot like the writers aren’t sure how to handle a stable relationship to me (or simply don’t want to).
When we first set out to do this season recap we mentioned the idea of parallel episodes. I know Joe and I didn’t really address that much on Anniversary. I’ve already mentioned why I see such a parallel to Role Models. I suppose I could say a little on why I thought it was better handled here; it mainly comes down to how the theme was carried through. In Role Models, the couple’s issue was loaded in the front and back (with one line in between “you’re not going to ask me to move in with you again?” which is essentially just a restatement of the issue). While in Suitcase, I thought they did a better job fitting the issue into the story. First in the previously mentioned closet scene, very funny; then later, when they have to fly back to Milan and Chuck says something to the effect of “good thing we’re already packed.” I thought that integrated nicely into the main story.
Thinkling, I know you and I had mostly similar reactions to this episode. So I guess my first question would be if you have any particular disagreements? or if anything struck you differently than it did me? Or if the answer is no to both if you can just add a thousand or so words of text so it looks like we did some work on this?
LOL. Where did I put my bag of words?
Well, Dave, I’ll shock the world (not) and agree with you. This was one seriously FUN episode. Is that an oxymoron? No matter. To your list of favorite moments I might tack on a few more. Funny Sarah and her funny faces… throughout! the episode. One more perfectly delivered Sarah line, “There’s a safe in the corner, here.” Really, the entire break-in was so fun and funny. The end of the fight when Sarah searches the crowd for Chuck and the open look of pride and adoration on his face. Bravo! Then their arrival on common ground again. “It’s good to be back at at work.” … “It’s good to be home.”
Where Suitcase hits me differently is the view that it is just a Role Models retread. I say it’s the continuation on a theme and so much more than a retread. Suitcase made me think about … well, Sarah’s suitcase: its symbolism and the stunning growth that Sarah’s unpacking sets in motion, beginning in Suitcase and continuing through Phase 3.
S: I’ve never had a real home, and I wanted this to feel like one.
C: Let me help you. … What’s this [picture]?
S: Uh … that’s just something I like to keep in my suitcase … at all times … whether I’m in Portugal or Russia or … Burbank. This ah, makes me feel comfortable … safe. Look, I know it’s probably taken me longer than a normal girl, but you should know that … you’re my home Chuck. You always have been.
Would it surprise you to know that Sarah’s suitcase makes a physical appearance in 4 other episodes, and that related themes appear in at least 8-10 additional episodes? For anyone who’s counting that’s pretty much all over the 25% range. I dunno … could be a theme. So let’s unpack it.
First of all, Sarah has either got a Sword-in-the-Stone-Merlin-magic-carpetbag thing going, or she’s the queen of lite. I’ll assume the latter. Yes [spies] do [pack light], b/c we always have to be ready for the next mission.
For such a larger-than-life character, one who has lived all over the world, she has lived a pretty small life.
In contrast to Sarah’s two suitcases, look at Chuck’s bedroom. It is bulging with stuff. As ordinary as he seems, and as common as his life appears, he has lived a fuller life. Not that the measure of a person is his stuff, but Chuck’s happy moments, experiences with friends, his special bond with his dad are recorded in all that stuff, each item a memory. Sarah’s life is summed up by the stamps in her passport and a stack of expense receipts. I may have a lot of stamps in my passport, but I think this is the first time I’m actually seeing the place. (Sarah, Honeymooners)
So let’s follow Sarah’s suitcase trail. We know how she grew up. She never had a real home, but lived from con to con. Even though a good con man can leave town whenever he wants, I get the feeling dear old dad left towns by the dozens. Did she carry anything special with her? Did she even always have time to pack? Or was she accustomed to collecting some bare necessities in a plastic bag (as in Colonel)? How many times had she formed fragile attachments or put down a timid root, only to uproot, detach, and depart?
Fast forward 20 years. Sarah Walker still has no home. She lives from mission to mission. She is a spy. She doesn’t fall in love or put down roots. All that begins to change, however, after a regular guy fixes her phone, saves a ballerina, takes her to dinner, and diffuses a bomb with a computer virus. Like the morning light, during a conversation on the beach, Sarah’s life begins to expand.
Carina alerts us to the change in Sarah as she finds her friend uncharacteristically content in Snoresville. At some point, real life and real love took root in a fallow heart, and a budding sense of home was the result.
In Nemesis, the suitcase makes its first live appearance. Sarah is packed. But for the first time in a long time, she’s not sure if she’s ready to go. She is at a crossroads. Chuck represents love and home, real life. Bryce represents the illusory, ever-changing-but-always-the-same spy life she’s used to.
Her heart betrays the spy persona she created to protect it, and she stays. The cost is an internal war between her heart and her spy-sense.
Her heart is steadily gaining ground until the next live appearance of her suitcase, in Broken Heart. This time her suitcase is packed, and she is definitely NOT ready to go. But orders prevail … almost. Her heart will not surrender.
Then her upbringing comes in handy when she is ordered to bunker Chuck. Her heart tells her to leave town, no time to pack. But she is still living one mission at a time; so when she is given orders to leave with Bryce, she initially submits. But she loves Chuck, and finds that her heart will no longer be led by her sense of duty. She decides to stay with Chuck … her home.
We will never know what that life might have looked like, because just as Sarah begins to follow her heart, Chuck begins to follow the beckoning of destiny.
Dreading what the spy life will do to Chuck and fearful of losing everything she loves, she resolves to do what comes naturally pack and run. Only this time she plans to take Chuck, her home, with her … Sarah’s version of eating her cake and having it. This brings us to the 3rd appearance of the suitcase. In the worst episode and most depressing scene of the series, we see Sarah waiting at the Nadrazi station in Prague, ready to embark on her happy-ever-after life-with-Chuck. Next we see her abandoned on the platform with nothing but her suitcase and a train ticket.
Sarah returns to her assignment with TeamB, but emotionally she has regressed. Having lost her sense of home, she slams her life back into her suitcase and becomes the small, confused, miserable woman we saw in the misery arc. As Chuck becomes a spy, she watches the assault on her home and her dreams, sure that they will be destroyed. The final straw is the invasion of her home by someone else who has taken her place in her home.
As the misery arc winds down, she is about to give up, pack, and leave town … because that’s what she does. Chuck finally convinces her that he is still her Chuck. So, she packs a much lighter bag (4th appearance of one of Sarah’s bags) to run away with Chuck. Life on the run with Chuck. She can do this. It feels normal, better than normal … back to having her cake and eating it, too. A few days later, in arguably the happiest episode of the series, Chuck & Sarah finally board the train together and resolve to run away. Again Sarah’s norm.
Finally they end up back in Burbank with Sarah waffling about moving in … something she has never done. Remember she’s never had a home … never done “normal.” It is both poignant and humorous that she is so clueless when it comes to normal. This is part of Sarah’s story … wanting to do normal with Chuck, willing to do normal with Chuck, but having to learn and adjust every step of the way.
So, do I buy that she moved in and didn’t unpack for 8 months? I admit it strains the ability to suspend disbelief. Yet, I love this episode, not only for its abundance of fun, but also because it gives us a humorous picture of Sarah’s emotional process … that of finding her home.
Unpacking means staying. Staying is something Sarah has never done … ever. Unpacking stuff doesn’t cut it. It’s easy to repack stuff. To stay someplace new and different, you have to unpack emotionally. Sarah is unpacking more than a suitcase with Chuck. She is unpacking herself … her life, her emotions, and her heart. She is putting down roots in a relationship and finding her home in Chuck.
And the picture? After unpacking everything in her suitcase, there’s one thing she won’t ever unpack … the picture. Sarah Walker has been away form home her whole life, but now she finally has a home complete with love and comfort and safety. All the things most of us take for granted are new and priceless to her. Now, whenever she has to be away, she carries with her the love and comfort and safety of home in the picture of the man who is all those things to her. That’s what I call having your cake and eating it, too.
Well, as always, you manage to find considerably more depth and meaning in these things than I did. I like your take and illustration of Sarah’s life and growth. But I guess I would pick one little nit (more with the writers than you Thinkling!) To me, the running away together in Honeymooners essentially is marriage. With the “spy vows” they made, it was like a lifetime pledge. I’m quite happy with that. But then Sarah balking a little at moving in, unpacking, and actual marriage; just feels like a retrograde movement. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve actually liked every single episode since Honeymooners, so I’m not talking about an extreme dislike or feelings of betrayal like the misery arc. Its just that those moments get a bit of an eye roll from me. Phase 3 feels more like the Sarah Walker I expect from Marlin or Colonel; you know, the leggy Valkyrie who will walk through walls for Chuck. Some of her hesitations seem silly by comparison. Usually a very fun silly, but still something that feels very manufactured for serial television.
Again, I don’t want to get too negative here. After all, I’m a big fan of many manufactured products; and Suitcase was a great time. So far, since Other Guy really, they’ve put together the longest run of episodes I like in the history of the series. And as I said at the beginning, Suitcase was a wonderful installment in that streak.
Thinkling’s Last Words
I hear that! I can’t even really disagree with you, Dave. We’ve talked before about the Honeymooners vows having that marriage-lifetime-commitment feel to them and that it’s apparent that Chuck & Sarah are in it together for life. So it was a bit of a head-scratcher for all of us when Sarah balked at moving in. And I freely admitted that the weird unpacking thing seriously strains the ability to suspend disbelief.
So TPTB are just messing with us (say it ain’t so!); or they like to regress in order to create the illusion of progress (would they do that sort of thing?); or maybe there’s more here than meets the eye. Or maybe all of the above.
I have no doubt that Sarah loves Chuck. That’s been abundantly clear for … forever. By Ring she had made the definitive decision that she wanted to be with him … make a life with him. So, even wanting all that and being committed to it in her heart, is it possible that the steps and how-to’s are still difficult for her? Is there anything in her background to support that, even a little? Yeah, I think it’s possible. Maybe it’s just me, but I like to ponder what might be below the surface creating the waves we wonder about.
It’s also interesting to consider how Sarah’s baggage affects Chuck, a man with deep abandonment issues. To top it off they’re terrible communicators. Overcoming these issues to build their relationship and their unrelenting love and determination to do that is the story that’s unfolding in s4. I see Suitcase as the delightful kick-off of an 8-episode growth arc, mostly for Sarah, but also for Chuck & Sarah’s relationship. The mood has been light and fun; the villains, best ever; the mom hunt, one twist and turn after the other. And in the midst of it all Chuck & Sarah are growing and becoming the couple and spy couple we love and love to root for.
So, Dave, regardless of how we see the issue of unpacking, we definitely agree that Suitcase is the 8th episode in a 16 episode winning streak. And how much we love the Sarah of Phase 3. Was it silly … all that we had to go through to get there? Or was it a legitimate part of Sarah’s story?
What does everyone else see the second time around? Is Thinkling seeing things that aren’t there, or is there something there to see? Is s4 just light and fun, or is it … can I say it … GENIUS?
Tell us what you see.